NBA: What Makes a Player a Bust?

11/09/2019

A year ago, a week removed from the 2018 NBA draft, we got to discussing what makes a draft pick a bust. Do injuries nullify any discussion of a bust? Do we adjust for the overall talent of the draft class? What is realistically expected of a top-3 pick? My argument was that any top 3 pick, say a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who has not produced at a level desired for a top 3 pick should be considered a bust while the counter argument was that Gilchrist could not be a bust because different players have different expectations and different draft classes have different talent levels and because Gilchrist was chosen in a relatively weak draft class then he could not be labeled a bust. The argument went on for hours so I decided to settle it once and for all in the most efficient way possible, using the numbers.

            The statistical averages of top 3 picks over their careers was used and combined with any individual honors won to determine the average profile of a top 3 pick. The individual honors considered were All-star nominations, All-NBA, All-Defensive, 6th Man, MVP, MIP, DPOY and ROY. The sample size was 89 players, every top 3 pick (With the unfortunate exception of Len Bias) from the 1976 draft to the 2005 draft class. The 1976 draft was the chosen starting point because Old People Sucked At Basketball and the ending point was the 2005 draft to exclude players with less than 13 years of NBA experience.

            Player profiles were then split into two categories; guards in one group with forwards/centers in the other group. That left us with 21 guards and 68 forwards/centers chosen in the top 3 of the 30 NBA drafts between 1976 and 2005. 

Here are the results:

Incidentally regardless of position, a top 3 pick will play an average of 12 NBA seasons. It is also important to note that picking a guard in the top 3 is much safer than drafting a forward or center. 

So, when a team drafts a player in the top 3 of the draft he should be expected to meet those numbers and anything ‘significantly’ less in theory constitutes a bust because it is below average for the draft position. Significantly less meaning 25% or more below the averages. 

            This means so far Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is indeed a bust, his career averages of 9 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist and 0 awards are far below what is expected of a forward chosen in the top three.



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